Battle of the bakers

I’ve heard some about “The Great British Baking Show” (“The Great British Bake-Off”) that I decided to check out one of the seasons available on Netflix. The first season listed on the streaming site is actually Series 5, which aired in 2014.

The premise of the show is simple — a group of amateur bakers square off in number of baking challenges. Every episode has three challenges — signature, technical and showstopper. The show is judged by Paul Hollywood (yes, that’s his last name) and Mary Berry. Hollywood is an English celebrity chef, and Berry is a British food writer, studied at Le Cordon Bleu and has published more than 75 cookery books.

The 12 in Series 5 are an interesting collection, from Martha, the youngest contestant at 17, to Richard, a builder, to Norman, a retired naval officer.

The first episode was cakes, and in the first competition, they had to make a swiss roll. So they made different kinds of flavors from cardamom, pistachio and coffee to a red velvet and white chocolate. I’m watching and wondering if I could ever make a cake like that. I also wondered if a swiss roll was big in the UK. In the technical challenges, the contestants usually have to make a recipe of either Hollywood’s or Berry’s. Even in the first episode, you could see who excelled or who was struggling.

What I like about the show is that it’s not stressful. You don’t have Gordon Ramsay yelling in your face “It’s raw!” or contestants sniping at each other. Sure the challenges can be tough at times for the British bakers, but they seem so good-natured about it. Some even help another contestant out.

So during the course of Series 5, the contestants have made biscuits, breads, desserts, pies and tarts, European cakes, pastries, etc. In the pastries episode, the signature bake was a parcel. I was like “what’s a parcel?” Turns out it could be any type of pastry. The technical bake was a Breton pastry called Kouign-Amann (yeah, I’ve never heard of it either; neither did the contestants). The showstopper was 24 eclairs (12 of two different types). Now the contestants could do any kind they want, and they went from the savory (smoked salmon and horseradish) to the sweet (chocolate and mango).

I’m in the last couple of episodes (still need to watch the final). In episode 9, the technical challenge was a schichttorte. This cake has 20 layers (alternating between light and dark layers) and was grilled. Yikes. And they’re always given a time limit as to when to have the item completed. And here I think, “I can make cookies…”

And the descriptions of some of their creations. For her showstopper in the continental cakes episode, Nancy was making a two-tiered torte with Italian meringue, chocolate buttercream and a layer of praline, topping the tiers with chocolate ganache and caramel, decorating with caramelized hazelnuts and caramel shards. I’m still like, “I can make cookies…”

I remember a time back in junior high home ec class. One of the things we made was a cupcake with pudding in the middle. It was a box mix (Pudding Pockets), so the cupcakes did turn out, and the pudding did stay in the middle. I tried replicating the cupcake by making a chocolate cupcake recipe and putting instant pudding in the middle. Well, the pudding sank to the bottom, much to this then 12-year-old’s dismay. It’s been a long time since I’ve baked anything, and I really don’t do anything fancy or frilly. I’m aiming more for edible and not burnt. I don’t think I’ll ever be to the caliber of the folks I’ve watched on the show. And I don’t think I really want to make a recipe that involves 26 ingredients and 14 stages (one of the challenges).

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